Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"Ghostbusters (2016)" Review: I Ain't Afraid of No Reboot


Here's all you need to know...it's good! It isn't going to make you change your religion or believe aliens exist and it certainly pales in comparison to the original 1984 film (for the most part), but it isn't the bucket of vomit all those internet trolls (most of whom haven't even seen it!) would have you believe. Go see it and make your own judgment then come back and read what I have to say. Seriously, it's not that bad. Go...now. OK, you back? Then let's get to it. Read the fully review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 45 min
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: July 15, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Ghostbusters 84'
Likes: Kristen Wiig, the Ghostbusters franchise, Spy
Neutral: Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids, The Heat, Ghostbusters 2 89'
Hates: All the hate this movie received by everyone who never saw it
Are we gonna get a sequel?: All signs point to yes but who knows really.

Haters gonna hate, but these ladies make fine Ghostbusters.

Columbia University science instructor Erin (Kristen Wiig) is looking to get tenure but before she is able to procure that position it is brought to her attention that an old book about her ghost hunting days that she co-authored with her friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) has risen from the depths of hell and threatens to ruin her name. After visiting Abby's mad scientist laboratory in hopes of stopping her from selling the book Erin, Abby and the whacked-out-of-her-mind engineer Holtzman (McKinnon) learn of a local historical estate experiencing a haunting. Packing up their mostly experimental gear they head off to the mansion where they encounter their very first apparition which is only the beginning of their problems as ghosts then begin appearing all over New York city. In order to put a stop to this ghostly invasion the trio create their own ghost busting agency in hopes of eventually capturing a real ghost.

By now it is well documented how much the internet as a whole didn't want this movie to happen. It doesn't matter what stance they took, be it that they cast all women in the lead roles, that they messed up the theme song, that it doesn't keep continuity with the original film...did I mention the women were a problem? Anyway, if you are looking to this review as a way to reinforce whatever prejudice you hold against the film then you have come to the wrong place. Instead of stoking the hate flames with a bunch of nonsense that manifested well before anyone even saw the movie, this review is gonna do something crazy, we are gonna review the film after actually seeing it. I know it goes against the popular choice of instant dismissal but hey, that's what I do.

Apparently someone didn't tell Chris Hemsworth that a little goes a long way.

The 1984 Ghostbusters was one of those lightning in a bottle scenarios where all the right circumstances collided into what became one of the greatest blockbuster comedy hits of all time. But let's face it, that was never likely to ever be replicated again. Not even getting the entire cast and crew could do it again as evidenced by the much inferior 1989 sequel. Despite all the behind scenes drama trying to get a third film made it was only inevitable that when it became clear that would never happen (heralded by the unfortunate passing of Harold Ramis) someone else would take the reigns and try to reboot the franchise. The question then became who were they gonna call? The answer was in the form of Paul Feig, director of such films as Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy.

If you know his work then you already sort of knew what to expect but then with the announcement of an all female cast it was cemented even further that this wasn't going to be your granddad's Ghostbusters. But you know what, that's OK. The last thing we needed was a filmmaker who was afraid of creating his own vision and instead just trying to imitate the magic of the first film that not even the magicians themselves weren't capable of doing. That is probably the greatest strength of this new Ghostbusters, it isn't afraid to be different. While some of the changes and additions made don't quite work the film at least feels like it is trying which is something that can't be said for all reboots (cough...Poltergeist...cough).

The ghosts look pretty cool for the most part and more importantly are consistent with one another.

What works the most is our four female leads whose characters do share some very minor similarities to the 84' original gang but ultimately feel fresh and new. But what matters most is how they function as an ensemble and that is where both the casting and writing shine brightest. All four of the core four women have different styles of comedy that complement each other perfectly with Wiig being the reserved introvert just waiting to break out of her shell, McCarthy playing against type as the straight man and Jones as the angry as hell but street smart addition. McKinnon steals the show from all of them however with her unhinged performance. Everything about McKinnon's Holtzman  screams, "Check out how crazy I am!" but never feels in your face or annoying. She is poised to be the biggest break out star of the film as she will likely be the one Ghostbuster that everyone will be talking about when its all over.

Where the film stumbles a little though is with just about all the other characters we are introduced to. The original Ghostbusters had a wide range of unique personalities outside the core group such as Sigourney Weaver's victimized (by both the ghosts and by Peter Venkman's advances) Dana who gave us someone outside the supernatural events and lent a hint of grounded reality to the proceedings. It even had a couple of other sources of comedy from Rick Moranis as Dana's moronic neighbor and Annie Potts with her deadpan delivery as the Ghostbuster's overworked secretary. In comparison the new film just isn't even in the same league as it provides almost no other interesting or even believable character types outside our four leading ladies.

All suited up and no ghosts to bust.

Case in point is the character played by a very game Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the secretary. At first his little quirks are amusing such as covering his eyes when something is too loud, trying to answer a phone inside a fish tank and creating a floating hot dog as the Ghostbusters logo, but after a while he just becomes a punch line to a joke that never seems to end. He is such a constant buffoon that it is impossible to see him as anything but a complete joke which is actually a detriment since he plays a surprisingly bigger role in the film's plot than it first appears. Other characters are fine like Andy Garcia's mayor who is afraid to be seen as the mayor from Jaws (this was actually pretty funny) and the two secret agent types (played by Matt Walsh and Michael Kenneth Williams) who liaison with the Ghostbusters who despite having two capable actors in the roles feel wholly unnecessary.

These comparisons might seem like nitpicks but when they go ahead and put just about the entire cast of the original film (minus Moranis sadly) into this reboot it really makes it difficult not to do it. But even then most of the cameos aren't all that special either with Bill Murray's scene never getting any sense of closure. At least most of the other homages to the original work such as a fun jab at the girls looking to find a place to rent out that leads them to the firehouse headquarters of the first Ghostbusters and a rather well done usage of the Stay Puft Marshallow Man that didn't feel either cheap or out of place. In fact there really are no complaints in regards to the amount of respect the film pays to the original film and its cast (and yes the female Slimer is kind of pointless but not terrible either).

Kate McKinnon is easily the best thing in the movie.

As for real nitpicks, some very bizarre decisions in relation to who the Ghostbusters are supposed to be raise an eyebrow or two. Are they working pro bono, for the city or are they trying to make this a business? What are their intentions with the ghosts once they capture them or better yet if they decide to capture them? One of the more baffling things in the film is that although they seem fairly intent to capture a ghost at first but we discover rather quickly that they decide to just flat out murder the ghosts instead. That's right, apparently you can kill ghosts in this version of the Ghostbusters. They only ever capture one ghost for the entire film and use their proton beams  (which were clearly established as tools to CAPTURE ghosts) as straight up killing machines during the bombastic finale which just feels sort of wrong.

This would probably be my biggest gripe with the film, because what is the purpose of trying to catch ghosts if you can just destroy them outright? But that is trumped with this very obvious plothole involving the villain that makes any future sequel prospects a little cloudy. The main plot we learn is that there is a human villain running around the city placing these devices which amplify paranormal activity and thus lets ghosts manifest to wreak havoc. While it is easy to automatically attack the film for providing a simple human as the antagonist it is easy to overlook the inherent problem with this line of logic. If this villain is the main cause for why ghosts are suddenly appearing all over, and if they were to defeat said villain by the end of the film why would the world still need people to bust ghosts? No villain equals no devices equals no ghosts equals no busters.

These new Ghostbusters are a bit more like superheroes than exterminators.

This would have been easily alleviated had they established that ghosts existed in this world BEFORE introducing the devices into the equation but instead we are led to believe they only appear where these devices are located. Sure they will probably find some sort of way to have it make sense for ghosts to be in the sequels but this is one of those little nagging details which if just addressed in even just a single sentence (no, Erin's story about seeing a ghost as a kid doesn't count) then perhaps it could have been overlooked but as it stands this is an unfortunate lack of logic on the writer's part that distracts more than anything else. An argument can be made that the original film also never established if ghosts were to appear before Gozer showed up but for some reason it is more noticeable and a bigger distraction in Paul Feig's version.

What about the actual ghosts themselves though? Some of the most iconic imagery from the original film were undoubtedly the ghosts or monsters if you will. The gatekeeper and keymaster monsters, the librarian, slimer and of course the Stay Puft Marshallow Man, they were and still are some of the most recognizable characters from any film where even people who have never seen the movies know who most of them are. The ghosts in the reboot aren't nearly as creative though with most looking interchangeable. Sure they look sort of cool and it is nice that they all share a consistent look (one of the few gripes I ever had with the original) but they just lack imagination. Even the final monster they take on in the finale feels sort of lame despite the clever gimmick it is based around. This one is a tough call but I will take the inconsistencies of the original film over these mostly generic ghosts any day of the week.

Most of the action is saved for the finale and it mostly delivers.

Lastly, when comparing the original with the reboot most of the changes that were made were for the better. Things like learning more background on some of the characters and their history with ghosts was appreciated as was getting some insight into how all their gadgets are made and tested were nice touches but by removing the "working man" aspect of the original makes these ghostbusters feel more like superheroes than your average everyday working wo-man. What I mean by this is that the original film portrayed the team like they were some sort of supernatural exterminators, the work was messy, dirty, tiring and they weren't paid much for their troubles which helped audiences relate to them despite the fact that they were capturing ghosts. This team lacks that appeal and at times feel more like superheroes than your average joe and in some minor ways the film suffers for it.

This new Ghostbusters clearly has a lot of issues but surprisingly they aren't all deal breakers. The film as a whole is just sort of all over the place and doesn't feel as cohesive and clever as the original but who in their right mind would expect it to? The question I find myself asking the most during this review is did I have fun watching it and the resounding answer is yes, I did. Honestly, the biggest problem this movie has is that it is called Ghostbusters and thus carries with it a legacy that it could never overcome. Had it been called anything else chances are we would see a much different reception than what it eventually received. If you can put aside the fact that it calls itself Ghostbusters than there is a lot of fun to be had here.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

If there is one thing this new updated Ghostbusters has taught us it is that we should never judge a film by its trailer alone. While all the marketing for the film was handled very poorly it by no means is reflective of the final product. The Ghostbusters franchise is alive and well which despite how you feel about this particular film is far from a bad thing. 

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